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The Real Reason Showing Up Matters

  • Claire McCarthy, M.D.
  • 11/21/2013 12:00:00 AM
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Portrait of Claire McCarthyI spent my 50th birthday being the starter at a swim meet.

It was a really great way to celebrate.

Standing for hours and saying, “Take your mark” and hitting the buzzer wasn’t exactly what I had planned for my Big Day, especially since I’d broken my toe the week before. But when I got there with my two swimming children they were short on officials, and I was the only one who had the certification to be a starter. And, I figured, at least I’d be close to Natasha and Liam on deck—the seats for spectators were behind a glass wall.  If you’re going to show up for something, you might as well be near enough for the occasional interaction.

I have five kids, so showing up for things can be a bit difficult and exhausting sometimes, especially as my husband and I both work long hours on opposite schedules (it’s the opposite schedules that have actually made it work—we can’t both get to everything, but one of us usually can). It can also be a bit wearing and even boring; turns out that most holiday concerts, talent shows, school plays, class parties, friend birthday parties and swim meets are remarkably similar. (I got certified as a swim official because it gave me something to do for the 98 percent of the meet when my kid wasn’t swimming).

But showing up isn’t optional.  The moment they look at you and ask, “Are you going to be there?” you know you don’t have a choice.

Recently, Natasha didn’t want to sign up for two meets, because they were on weekends I was going to be away. “I don’t want to do it if you aren’t going to be there,” she said.

It got me thinking about this concept of “showing up” and why it’s important. It’s not just about celebrating them, although that’s definitely part of it. It’s not just about being there if there is a problem, although that’s part of it too. It’s about something more and different.

When my sister and I were children, my father showed up for absolutely everything. He was very tall, so he was always easy to pick out in the crowd. He didn’t do much talking before, during or after, and he wasn’t the type to volunteer or take part. But he was always there, and that meant everything.

If he was there, I could face and do almost anything. His presence comforted me and gave me strength. He was like an invisible handrail, guiding me and holding me up. I could feel his love for me, and that love was enough.

That, I think, is the essence and importance of showing up—for swim meets, plays, concerts, weddings, graduations, funerals and all the other life events for which people come together. It’s about the connections between us, and how important and powerful those connections are. Everything we ever do is easier, and better, when we have people at our back—especially those we love and who love us too.

That’s what my birthday ended up being about: showing up. Not only did I spend the afternoon watching and cheering my youngest two as they swam, but my older son came home from Virginia for the weekend and joined us at the meet to watch and cheer too. All seven of us went out for dinner and made chocolate pudding afterward. (We had realized that, thanks to Snack Packs, the kids had never eaten warm pudding). Then we made a fire in the fireplace and watched “Modern Family” episodes all curled up together.

I felt their love, and that was more than enough. It was about the very best birthday present ever. 

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